With a drastic philosophical change likely to manifest itself as power changes hands in Washington, communications watchdogs who have been howling from the sidelines during the last eight years are now making suggestions they have reason to believe may have a chance to blossom into full-blown changes. Much of the focus is on internet policy, but broadcasters are not going to go unnoticed. One such prescription is from the New Democracy Project and the Center for American Progress Action Fund in a policy briefing entitled “Change for America: A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President.”
Larry Irving authored a comprehensive set of recommendations for the new FCC, which starts squarely with making sure the DTV transition is successful, then moves on to the internet. Briefly, he extols the virtues of net neutrality while acknowledging the reality that some level of gatekeeper traffic management is required. He said this is acceptable if the traffic rules of the road are clearly spelled out to subscribers right from the out the outset. He also is looking for vastly increased access to broadband, and yes – this goal includes an invasion of television white spaces.
Irving notes a 1983 book by Ben Bagdikian, “The Media Monopoly,” which bemoaned a communications industry dominated by 50 companies, a number he expected to shrink. Irving says Bagdikian has been proven correct. Although there are numerous mom and pops operating in the broadcast space, communications overall is now dominated by eight companies, according to Irving. And the internet, which is supposed to be a counterweight to corporate dominance of traditional media, also tends to be dominated by the same companies. Therefore, Irving wants no additional deregulation of media ownership and asks Congress to roll back the limited top-20 DMA newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership opening pushed through the FCC last December by Chairman Kevin Martin.
To increase minority ownership levels, Irving calls for immediate Congressional reinstatement of the minority tax credit, as well as a full study on other means of promoting diverse ownership.
Some items of note not covered in Irving’s essay: Broadcast public interest requirements, broadcast/cable retransmission issues (indeed, cable is barely mentioned in passing), performance royalties, free ads for politicians, children’s issues, sponsor ID/payola issues.
RBR/TVBR observation: Broadcasters will be focusing on sheer survival in the coming months, not a Washington wish list. But at this point, we would surmise that the only achievable wish is to hold the line where it is. We believe the industry must accurately spell out the real costs of policy initiatives such as a return to old localism rules which may by high-minded but would also be ineffective and costly.
Broadcasters must get out the calculator and demonstrate that the redirection of scarce capital to things like building six studios for an eight station cluster will not improve local service, it will damage it.
Meanwhile, broadcasters must make localism a mantra. Strong focus on local content will be good for business, and will demonstrate to regulators and legislators that government intervention is not required.